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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Jul 1, 1992; 89(13): 5932–5936.
PMCID: PMC402112

Primary structures of chicken cone visual pigments: vertebrate rhodopsins have evolved out of cone visual pigments.


The chicken retina contains rhodopsin (a rod visual pigment) and four kinds of cone visual pigments. The primary structures of chicken red (iodopsin) and rhodopsin have been determined previously. Here we report isolation of three cDNA clones encoding additional pigments from a chicken retinal cDNA library. Based on the partial amino acid sequences of the purified chicken visual pigments together with their biochemical and spectral properties, we have identified these clones as encoding the chicken green, blue, and violet visual pigments. Chicken violet was very similar to human blue not only in absorption maximum (chicken violet, 415 nm; human blue, 419 nm) but also in amino acid sequence (80.6% identical). Interestingly, chicken green was more similar (71-75.1%) than any other known cone pigment (42.0-53.7%) to vertebrate rhodopsins. The fourth additional cone pigment, chicken blue, had relatively low similarity (39.3-54.6%) in amino acid sequence to those of the other vertebrate visual pigments. A phylogenetic tree of vertebrate visual pigments constructed on the basis of amino acid identity indicated that an ancestral visual pigment evolved first into four groups (groups L, S, M1, and M2), each of which includes one of the chicken cone pigments, and that group Rh including vertebrate rhodopsins diverged from group M2 later. Thus, it is suggested that the gene for scotopic vision (rhodopsin) has evolved out of that for photopic vision (cone pigments). The divergence of rhodopsin from cone pigments was accompanied by an increase in negative net charge of the pigment.

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